ReligionNewsBlog.com, Mar. 17-18, 2004
[Aum Shinrikyo] Aum cult member appeals prison sentence to Japan's supreme court
A former senior Aum Shinrikyo cult member filed an appeal Thursday with the Supreme Court against a ruling sentencing him to 10 years in prison for the murder of a fellow believer and other crimes. Early this month, the Tokyo High Court upheld a ruling that found Shinichi Koshikawa, 39, guilty of strangling Kotaro Ochida as he entered an Aum facility in the village of Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, to try to rescue an ill female cultist on 30 January, 1994.
[Apostles (Malawi)] Sect predicts doom
The forthcoming general elections on May 18 are already causing panic among some sections of the Malawian society including a religious sect called the Apostles. Some members of the sect are currently gathering in Chirimba, Blantyre. They include men, women and children. According to residents in the area, the sect predicts that war is afoot and the world comes to an end just before the elections.
[Raelians] Raelians protest Mardi Gras rejection
Representatives of the UFO-related Raelian movement gathered in Taylor Square on Saturday to protest against their exclusion from this years Mardi Gras parade. More than 20 members of the Raelian movement erected posters proclaiming "No god, no guilt", "Debaptise yourself from your homophobic religion" and "Raelian gays not welcomed by Mardi Gras". [...] Raelian protesters also held a "debaptism ceremony" for members of the public wishing to dissociate themselves from the "sexist and homophobic discrimination perpetuated by the churches".
[The Passion of The Christ] German churches join Jews in attack on "Passion"
Germany's Roman Catholic and Protestant churches joined the Jewish community on Thursday in a rare joint declaration to warn that Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" could fan anti-Semitism in Europe.
[The Passion of The Christ] Germany warns "Passion" may fan anti-Semitism
Jewish leaders and church officials are warning that Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" may foment anti-Semitism in the country where the Holocaust was planned when the film opens on Thursday. Rushed into 400 cinemas in the world's second biggest film market by revenues three weeks ahead of schedule in response to public demand, the biblical epic portraying Christ's final 12 hours has also been attacked by German film critics as anti-Semitic kitsch.
[Hate Groups : Scientology] Scientology-link group is banned
A drug counselling group linked to the controversial Church of Scientology has been banned from Edinburgh Universitys student union. The organisation called Narconon put up posters about its services on Edinburgh Student Association (EUSA) notice boards without permission. Now union officials have pulled the posters down and outlawed any further adverts being displayed. They are concerned Narconon may be used to recruit new members for Scientology, which has often targeted students in the Capital.
[Marcus Wesson] Police, psychologists probe murder suspect's history
As the 57-year-old Wesson made his first court appearance Wednesday on charges that he murdered nine of his children, it was still unclear how he exerted so much control over their lives. But one expert said Wesson's nomadic, polygamous lifestyle had many hallmarks of a ``charismatic psychopath'' -- similar to cult leader David Koresh or the alleged kidnapper of Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart -- who manipulates followers through a mixture of isolation, sexual indoctrination and his own paranoid preaching. ``You could take any religious faith and if you pervert it or distort it enough, you can preach your own message that allows you to take control of other people,'' said J. Reid Meloy, a San Diego forensic psychologist who has written books about criminal behavior. He said that message often includes perceived threats from outsiders or the prospect of looming Armageddon, which can lead to suicide or murder. [...] Two of Wesson's adult children have insisted that their father was not a cult leader. They described him as a Seventh-day Adventist. Wesson attended Seventh-day Adventist services or retreats occasionally over the years, according to officials at the Central California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. But they said Wesson was never formally a member of any congregation, although some of his children were. None of the bizarre elements in Wesson's lifestyle are consistent with the church's teachings, said Fritz Guy, a theology professor at La Sierra University. He said Wesson's behavior would be considered ``weird'' and offensive by any Adventist congregation.
[Local Church] Publisher will appeal summary judgment opinion
On March 9, 2004, Judge Kent Sullivan of the 80th Judicial District Court of Harris County in Houston, Texas, denied a motion for summary judgment submitted by defendants Harvest House Publishers, Inc. and authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon with regard to the twoyearold, $136 million defamation suit filed by The Local Church and their publishing arm, Living Stream Ministry. This action is not a ruling against Harvest House and the authors, but simply allows the case to continue forward. In response, Harvest House Publishers, Ankerberg, and Weldon have announced they will immediately take this ruling to the Texas court of appeals. [...] We will appeal this case to the highest court necessary, said lead counsel Shelby Sharpe. Freedom of expression on the written page as well as healthy debate when discussing religious subjects need to be encouraged and protected with absolute diligence. This case is crucially relevant to all print media, and especially to the members of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Indeed, Harvest House and the authors must prevail in order to prevent a serious chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights.
[Hate Groups] Scholars Gather for Wash. Hate Conference
Scholars who want to know why people hate are gathering at Gonzaga University in hopes of shaping a new academic discipline to study a prime motivator of people's behavior. [...] The three-day conference, which began Thursday, is sponsored by the Gonzaga Institute for Action Against Hate and will feature tolerance groups, legal experts and others. Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees will be a closing night speaker. [...] The Gonzaga Institute for Action Against Hate publishes the "Journal of Hate Studies." The institute was founded in 1997 after black law students were targets of racist and sometimes threatening mail and phone calls.
[USA] U.S. Credibility Hurt, Survey Finds
A year after U.S. forces invaded Iraq, resentment and suspicion of the United States has intensified abroad, with many people saying the war has undermined U.S. credibility and hurt, rather than helped, the war on terrorism, according to a new survey of attitudes in the United States and eight foreign countries. [...] The Pew survey found that "large majorities in every country, except for the U.S., hold an unfavorable opinion of Bush." The survey was carried out in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan and Morocco, in addition to the United States. It has a margin of error ranging from 3.5 percent to 5 percent.
[Marcus Wesson] Arraignment Delayed in Fresno Mass Murder Case
The Fresno father who was supposed to be arraigned on nine counts of murder Wednesday had the court date postponed. Marcus Wesson, 57, refused a public defender, and the judge gave him 24 hours to find his own attorney.
[Aum Shinrikyo] AUM victims, lawyers reiterate call for compensation
Victims of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and their lawyers, reiterated their calls Wednesday for the central and local governments to take responsibility and compensate them for the attack and other crimes perpetrated by the AUM Shinrikyo cult. [...] Currently, 1,137 victims have taken part in a civil suit for bankruptcy proceedings involving AUM's assets, but only 30% have received money, while the rest are getting help from workers' accident compensation, they said. In the Tokyo subway attack in 1995 alone, 12 people died and more than 5,500 were injured. Echoing another demand in the petition, Takeshi Ono, who was the secretary general for the other lawyers' group, urged the government to continue keeping an eye on AUM, saying that until the group is disbanded the problem ''will not end.''
Wed, Mar. 17, 2004
[Polygamy] Author paints image of complex lifestyle in Colorado City
To Ben Bistline, the myth of Colorado City lies in three words: Money, power and sex. Leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which controls most of the land and property in the area, preach that a man has to have at least three wives to go to heaven, he said. But the men, most of them already giving up their money and belongings to the church, are not granted plural wives unless they are deemed to be "worthy" enough. [...] "Your first responsibility is to the leaders; Your family comes second," said Bistline, 68, a longtime Colorado City resident who believed in but never lived polygamy. "I had to make the decision. I knew if I didn't play the game, I wouldn't get another wife. But it wouldn't be worth it to me." onetheless, the "game" inside the FLDS church, the largest polygamist enclave in America, was depicted in Bistline's new book, "The Polygamists: A History of Colorado City, Arizona." Filled with a bulk of reference texts, the book is not for outsiders seeking a quick peak into the increasingly secretive communal church, now headed by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, 48. But Bistline's 432-page textbook-sized work, often drawn from church and court documents and his personal journals, presents a comprehensive view of the FLDS church, which has survived constant internal power struggles, religious splits, government prosecutions, evictions of dissidents and court battles in both Utah and Arizona.
[Aum Shinrikyo] Japan Cult Guru Daughter's College Place Revoked
Wako University said it had told the daughter of Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth Sect), that she could not attend the university, despite passing an entrance exam, because her presence could be disruptive. "Because of who she is, she is likely to prompt uneasiness within and without the school," the university's president, Osamu Mihashi, said in a statement on Wednesday.
[Religion Trends] Pentecostals lead modest growth in U.S. church membership
The number of Protestants -- particularly Pentecostals -- continues to increase in the United States, with a fourth Pentecostal denomination joining the list of 25 largest U.S. religious bodies. The new numbers come from the 2004 "Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches," published recently by the National Council of Churches. [...] Leading any other single U.S. church is the Roman Catholic Church, reporting 66,407,105 adherents, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention (16,247,736) and the United Methodist Church (8,251,042). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranks 5th (5,410,544).
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[Word of Faith Fellowship] Assault charges filed on Muse
Two relatives of Shana Muse have filed charges that Muse assaulted them on the same day Muse claims she was falsely imprisoned. Ricky Cooper and Lena Cooper, Muse's brother-in-law and niece, filed separate charges against Muse, who was served with the criminal summons' Monday. Ricky Cooper claims that Muse hit him in his face with her hand on March 23, 2002. On the same day, Lena Cooper alleges that Muse swung at her and spit in her face. [...] The Coopers are current members of the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale. Muse is a former member of the controversial church and lived with the Coopers during her two-and-a-half years in the church. In February, Muse charged that the Coopers, including her sister, Ricky's wife, Suzanne Cooper, and Carol Smith falsely imprisoned her by retaining her against her will. Those charges are to be heard in district court Friday. Muse said Monday that what she did on that day in 2002 was in only because she was being held against her will. "He (Rick) might of gotten hit in the face, but it was in self defense," said Muse. "When you are trapped with six people at the door you do anything you can to get out." Muse said she believes the charges filed by the Coopers serve as partial proof of her charge because they admit to an event occurring on March 23, 2002.
Note: Scientology lawyers are defending the Word of Faith Fellowship - a cult of Christianity - in its lawsuit against de local department of Social Services.
[Mormon Church] SLC to create buffer zones at conference
Fearing that increasingly provocative anti-Mormon protests will incite violence among some Mormons attending the LDS Church's worldwide conference next month, Salt Lake City police say they want to protect protesters by limiting their physical contact with conferencegoers. As the LDS Church had earlier requested, the city will create buffer zones during the April 3 and 4 conference in downtown Salt Lake City. Protesters still will be allowed to spread their message by walking with church members on public streets and sidewalks as people enter and exit the Conference Center, said City Attorney Ed Rutan. But those who want to stand still and speak or hold signs must remain in nearby designated areas. Rutan didn't say Tuesday where the areas will be located. Details will be released before the conference. Without the restrictions, police Chief Rick Dinse fears protesters could be harmed. In October 2003, some protesters demonstrated with LDS garments, which Mormons consider sacred. Two Mormon men were offended and then arrested after they tried to take the garments.
[Marcus Wesson] Fresno slayings suspect's hold over victims
With nine family members shot to death and stacked in a pile behind him, Marcus Wesson walked out of his house covered in blood and did something others rarely saw: He gave up control. Coroners were still working Tuesday to identify the dead, all of whom were believed to be his children, while Wesson was formally charged with nine counts of murder. He remained jailed on $9 million bail pending an arraignment Wednesday. But up until Friday, Wesson appeared to wield absolute authority over his household and his large clan.
[Prem Rawat] Court rulings support sect's harassment of freelance journalist
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today condemned intimidation and harassment of Australian freelance journalist John Macgregor by the Elan Vital sect and a series of rulings by the Queensland supreme court in Elan Vital's favour which pose a threat to press freedom. The organisation said it has written to Press Council chairman Ken McKinnon and attorney-general Philip Ruddock asking them to ensure that press freedom is guaranteed in coverage of Elan Vital's activities. [...] Macgregor stated on that occasion that he had been harassed by Australian members of Elan Vital, an international sect led by a guru known as Maharaji.
Note: "[Prem Rawat] was billed as a motivational speaker, but until just a few years ago was known as the Guru Maharaj Ji, head of the Divine Light Mission, a movement founded in India which attracted thousands of followers. Elan Vital is a registered charity, set up to support the work of Mr Rawat. He has been accused of using the organisation to fund a lavish lifestyle."
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